Media: Why Scotland's Press Isn't Free

By Hardy, Rebecca | The Independent (London, England), November 2, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Media: Why Scotland's Press Isn't Free

Hardy, Rebecca, The Independent (London, England)

TIM LUCKHURST, briefly my predecessor as editor of The Scotsman, wrote last week that Scotland's newpapers had been slow to wake up to the Henry McLeish story, and accused us of being unable or unwilling to differentiate reporting from propaganda.

Plainly he has failed to read The Scotsman during the last 18 months, when it has risen to the journalistic challenge of policing Scotland's fledgling institutions, while reflecting due national pride in having achieved them.

The Mail on Sunday opened the floodgates on the McLeish story, but The Scotsman's challenges to the First Minister were instrumental in sweeping him from office. It was when confronted by the questions I was able to put on the BBC's Question Time - as a result of the scrutiny to which Scotsman correspondents had subjected the story - that the fatal cracks appeared in the McLeish facade.

A week later, on 8 November, The Scotsman exclusively revealed that one law firm that had sublet McLeish's office was a donor to Labour. As the newspaper hit the streets, the telephone lines from London to Holyrood became white-hot: by mid-afternoon McLeish was gone, and Scotland's Parliament was looking for its third First Minister in just over a year of its existence.

The Scotsman was one of the major campaigning forces behind the establishment of the new Parliament. We believed it would meet the aspirations of the Scottish people, and help to create more open government in what was effectively a Labour-controlled, one-party state based on municipal cronyism.

In policing the spread of such cronyism to Holyrood, The Scotsman has relentlessly opposed the Parliament-backed efforts to shore up Scotland's undemocratic plethora of quangos. Eventually, the First Minister was forced to act on our leadership and declare a "bonfire of quangos". The Scotsman has also opposed the Parliament on its free care for the elderly - because it was passed on a whim, without proper consultation or costing, by the then First Minister. Add The Scotsman's criticism of the ever-inflated cost of the Scottish Parliament building, and one hardly sees the picture painted by Mr Luckhurst of Scotland's national newspaper failing to hold the powerful to account.

That's not to say that others in the Scottish media, including English "incomers", are free of the complicity that corrupts the ethics of a free press. In a small country dominated by one political party, relationships between politicians and journalists are often too intimate. One Holyrood Labour Cabinet minister is married to a prominent Scottish media figure, another has been involved with the political editor of a leading tabloid. SNP leader John Swinney has recently announced his connection with a BBC correspondent.

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